Tuesday, 23 January 2018

World Handwriting Day? We Need World Typing Day!

So it's world handwriting day. Why the obsession with handwriting? Surely it's much more important that modern children learn how to touch type than produce cursive handwriting?

In many parts of the world, cursive handwriting is no longer taught. But in the UK there's a huge focus on it. I wonder how many hours children spend practising cursive handwriting in primary schools. It's a lot. There's no focus on typing or keyboard skills, they are not mentioned in the National Curriculum.

Now I'll agree that at the moment it's useful for everyone to have basic hand-writing skills. I do scribble down the occasional note (often an email address or phone number!) and sometimes end up having to fill in a paper form. But beyond that, I struggle to see the real-life value.

Handwriting only really seems to be a thing in schools. This is because children don't have routine access to technology and because they need to be able to produce large amounts of hand-written text quickly in exams. So yes, at the moment children do need to be able to produce large volumes of legible hand-writing. But we should accept it for what it is - an internal requirement that school places on children, not a skill that's useful long-term.

Elbrie has written previously about how her son struggled to physically write his exams because by then he was used to producing work on a computer whenever possible.

It's going to take a while to reach the point where handwriting isn't necessary in school but we shouldn't pretend that it has value to the majority of children outside of school.

When I was at school we had to write with ink pens and cartridges and use blotting paper. The ballpoint pen was well-established in the outside world but schools persisted with messy and inconvenient fountain pens long after they become an infrequent sight outside school.

Despite spending huge amounts of time trying to learn to write at least legibly, if not neatly, my handwriting is now awful, I have to write really slowly for it to be acceptable and my hand hurts if I ever try to write more than a paragraph. Being able to write quickly and neatly is a skill you need to practice if you want to keep it. This makes it even less worthwhile to learn at school.

Calligraphy is a lovely hobby, but it's a hobby. Cursive handwriting is headed in the same direction.

Both of my children struggle with handwriting. The older one struggles with legibility and the younger one struggles with speed. It's frustrating for both of them and particularly so when they see that handwriting isn't used in the adult world. At home, they both reach for a laptop if they want to write something. My 11-year-old is now reasonable at typing and the 9-year-old is keen to practice. We'd recommend BBC Dance Mat Typing for younger kids and Epistory for tweens and teens.

I often see the argument that handwriting is good for fine-motor skills. This is important in the age of tablet devices and less real-world play. But handwriting isn't the only way to develop those skills. Wouldn't it make more sense to develop fine motor skills alongside other skills that are actually useful?

I've also heard arguments that it improves literacy but I'm not convinced. My children hate having to write on paper at school because it's difficult to structure their work and they stick with poor choices because it's hard to make changes. When they work electronically they are much more ambitious and also happier with the result because they can easily make improvements. I can't imagine trying to write a blog post by hand! The resulting order of this post is nothing like the order in which I wrote it.

My kids also appreciate having ready access to a spell-checker and thesaurus when working electronically. The correct spelling is readily available and the more they see the correct spelling the more likely they are to be able to come up with it without help next time. At school, they spend a lot more time looking at their own incorrect spellings, only getting feedback later.

On a computer, kids get to focus on the creative aspects of writing that people are still, just about, better at. When these children are trying to compete with robots for jobs I don't think anyone will be saying, well you cost 10 times as much but you do have beautiful handwriting.

Typing, on the other hand, is still very useful. There's no sign of an effective replacement. Voice recognition is useful for some situations but it has been reasonably effective for some time now and hasn't replaced typing for most people.

Teaching children to touch type takes much less time than teaching them to produce beautiful cursive handwriting. It's also a skill that they're likely to keep and they will make use of it.

Typing is a hugely important skill for communicating in the modern age. I'd like to see touch typing taught in primary schools. Never mind whether kids have got their pen license, let's have them trying to improve their typing speed.

One additional reason that I'm keen to see children learn to touch type is that it's one of the prereqs for using text-based programming languages. I'm in no hurry to move kids on from graphical languages but there comes a point when kids are ready to try a text-based programming language and it's really frustrating if they can't type reasonably quickly and accurately.

What do you think?

Stay tuned for some way to help teach your children to type using games, coding and kid-sized keyboards!

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